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Port Royale 4 Review: Merchants Of The Caribbean

Become the governor of a number of provinces and master trading in Port Royale 4 on PC.

Port Royale 4 Review
Source: Steam

Yo ho, ho! (and a bottle of rum), a slight discount on grain and a top price for beer that you won’t find anywhere else in the Caribbean. So Port Royale 4 is not so yarr ye salty sea dog and more hello there dear fellow, would you like to see your profits grow?

I’m no more a fan of tutorials than anybody else, but you need to run through these at least once to get a grasp on the mechanics in Port Royale 4. It’s not so much a swashbuckler of plundering, but more about economics; supply and demand.

It’s so intricately designed that it borders on overwhelming and I almost yearn for a physical manual that I could flick through the pages as a reference on how to play the game. But that’s all poppycock really, as this a relatively intuitive strategy title; if you have the time and patience.

Port Royale 4 Review

Port Royale 4 is ideal if you want your fingers in all the pie or you want to automate the process and focus your attention elsewhere for other ventures, as it’s all about the money.

Port Royale 4 - Community
It’s all about community. Source: Steam

You’ll start with a base and will be able to view your products available to sell. This will be represented by four bars that indicate how much you are making and what is being used by the population. Initially, anything with two green bars or more is good and means you have a reasonably lucrative product that you can sell to another town for a profit. However, if the demand is high, but supplies are low, you won’t be making much, if anything, in return.

To kick off this import and export business, you will devise trade routes between locations, manually doing this yourself but as you establish yourself, and fleet, you can leave your employees to rake in the money while you do other things, like enjoy the Caribbean. 

Between these little trade excursions, you also have to factor in naval battles too, and while these do play a part in the adventure part of the game, the focus is mostly on trade and perhaps being one of those fat cat types.

A Bottle Of Rum And A Dirty Bum

Creating these shipping lanes is simple enough. Once you have established a warehouse location with the port you wish to trade with (and a licence to trade, where applicable), you load up your ship and send them on their way. 

having effects such as storms and battles will affect your progress (and wallet) so automation doesn’t mean switching off and speeding up the game

As your ships sail away, the in-game clock starts to tick day by day and if you watch the proceedings from afar, read: zoomed out, the ship(s) reach their destination faster at the expense of time. So yeah, it will get your goods to or from a location promptly, but time passes by and could be detrimental.

But the planning is one thing, having effects such as storms and battles will affect your progress (and wallet) so automation doesn’t mean switching off and speeding up the game for a quick win.

Port Royale 4 - Character creation
Character selection. Source: Steam

For the combat side of things, I wasn’t too fussed. Never playing the Port Royale series before, my only expectations were of piracy, but when it became apparent that Port Royale 4 is more than that and an in-depth management title, turn-based combat kind of got in the way of my plans.

Building The Dream

As a Kalypso Media publication, it was assumed that this would be more of a city builder like the Tropico series, but no, not so much. You do have a say in some construction as it’s a necessity to build the correct amenities when expanding, but it only applies when you’re the governor.

You’ll need to keep the people happy – that mostly means fed and protected from getting the plague – yes, that’s a real threat in Port Royale 4. Though the tutorials are in detail, and despite the occasional wall of text, the gameplay is intuitive, it goes full circle and becomes overwhelming.

That’s the nature of management and problem solving, but there are a lot of scenarios where you’re merely wearing too many hats and shifting back and forth that you start to miss things. It was never dull as a result of this, but there were times when it would have been nice for a breather.

The more time to dedicate to Port Royale 4, the more you ‘get it’ and reap the rewards of fame and fortune. Fame in the game warrants new builds – technology if you will, and allows for you to eventually take over locations, controlling all the produce (for a profit of course).

The Best Build

Due to the complexity, this isn’t the type of game to experiment with builds. You can choose a captain and opt for the life of a merchant with free trade and plenty of profits, or take the gamble and become a pirate and ‘rule the seas’.

The battles can be a ballache if not well equipped

I went the merchant route to secure trade routes as you will need trade licences to conduct business. The battles can be a ballache if not well equipped, and the effect of a scrap or poor weather will take a toll on your ship and/or fleet, so it’s advisable to repair your assets and invest in new ones regularly whether it be for the offensive or defensive game.

Port Royale 4 is a challenging game to review as it’s so far removed from casual play that it makes me want to pick up a pixel art indie title on the Switch just to that I can have some variety. Judging a game by the hours you play doesn’t always do it justice, but in the time I’ve been playing, I only think I’ve scratched the surface. With a sandbox mode, the options in this game are extensive.

Port Royale 4 - April showers
April showers don’t exist here. Source: Steam

On the outside looking in, other than the pirate references, Port Royale 4 sounds pretty boring and far from what I want to be spending time playing. It’s just not my thing. But in typical fashion, once you go through the tutorials (and come back to them for those eureka moments) and develop enough where you have almost full autonomy over your business ‘interests’, the gameplay is gratifying. But be prepared to dig in as it’s not an easy process.

Recent Updates

Port Royale 4 has recently had a bit of an overhaul – the official term being an update. Scanning over the mixed reviews, I see a pattern for a few issues that either have been corrected in this update, or don’t bother me as much as some of the other reviewers, but they aren’t wrong – it’s all opinion.

In this new update, one of the key additions, other than the fixes to player requests et al., is independence. Once you’re able to satisfy several conditions, you can declare independence, change the name of your province as well as the flag. It’s not advisable for the Jolly Roger – that one’s taken.

I have surmised is the people at Gaming Minds are a vindictive bunch of people intent on giving naysayers a run for their money

Other aspects such as plagues of locusts and prohibition were added, as well as the difficulty in some of the naval battles. This wasn’t new to me as I didn’t have a comparison beforehand, but what I have surmised is the people at Gaming Minds are a vindictive bunch of people intent on giving naysayers a run for their money and making it as harsh as the conditions that would have been back in the day, there or thereabouts.

If it weren’t for the number of titles I’m playing through at the moment, Port Royale 4 would get even more attention. This is the kind of game I would have played back in my youth when having a family wasn’t the two people that bought my games and put food on the table – it’s the other way around now and to think you can have a quick game here is pretty naive.

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